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Episode 200: Quickly Improve Balance – Part 1

Video Highlights

- Better balance results in better movement.
- Integrating balance training into your existing program.
- Unstable surface training is NOT necessarily balance training.

Today we’re going to start a quick, two part series on balance training in the real world.

One of the things I love to talk a lot about is balance training.

Now, when it comes to balance, there are tons of ways to improve balance.

One of the things that you have to think about is your eyes.

You have to think about the inner ear.

There’s a lot of different things that can manifest with balance problems, but one of the things that we do know is that better balance equals better movement for most people.

So I’m going to go through with you over the next two weeks some simple ideas about how to add balance training into your regiment, without maybe even knowing what’s going on with your eyes or inner ear. These are just some well-researched methods that we have looked at, that can help improve your balance, like I said, in the real world.

Now what we’re going to do, first of all, is we’re going to work on the earth. I don’t want you standing on a foam cushion, a BOSU ball, or anything else right now, because in general we don’t advocate doing a lot of unstable surface work, except in very specific conditions. Most of us operate on gym floors and grass and corporate office floors, none of which are moving underneath us.

So in order to train our brain appropriately to maintain good balance, we want to make sure that we’re actually training on that surface.

The second thing I would recommend, I’m not doing it in this video, because it’s not part of my uniform, but what I would recommend is to take your shoes and socks off. Because one of the things that we also have learned is that when people do balance work with shoes on, they often are getting either good or perhaps bad input from the shoe itself, which can alter your overall balance ability.

Now, obviously if you spend all day in your shoes, from a basic philological perspective, that means you should also periodically train balance in shoes as well, because that’s how you live.

So it’s also okay to start these in your shoes, but at some point, work barefoot. It will cause the musculature, and particularly, the neural innovations of the feet to up-regulate, which is what we’re looking for.

Now, when it comes to balance training, we’re going to start off and look at two different versions. Today’s version, we’re going to be keeping the head still, while the body is simply being challenged.

When I have people begin balance training, one of the things I focus on is what we call a safe, but challenging stance. So if you have very compromised balance, you’re probably going to start off your balance training keeping your feet really, really wide, and knees slightly bent, as if you were in a little bit of an athletic stance or afraid of falling.

Most of us, however, can begin our balance training with our feet either in a neutral stance, very close together, which is more challenging, or in a staggered stance, one foot directly in front of the other.

This is much more challenging for most people.

Now, in general, what I have people do is go through 15 second holds. So you go here. Your feet are together. You stand here for 15 seconds. Hopefully you are able to do that without excessive swaying.

If that’s a problem for you, you can back off into this more neutral stance, and then we’ll add some eyes closed variations in a moment to make it more challenging.

But let’s say that we are beginning, most of us either here or in the staggered stance. Begin by holding this position for 15 seconds, and just pay attention to what happens in your body, whether or not your feet are moving a lot, whether you’re wobbling a lot, and then you want to switch positions. All right, now if the staggered stance is super easy for you with your eyes open, then you can go to a single leg stance.

All right, so our basic stances for balance training are wide if you are compromised, neutral if you’re new to balance, feet together, staggered, or one leg.

Close up of gymnast's feet on the balance beam.

All right, and basically, like I said, what I want you to do is find a position that is most challenging for you with your eyes open, and simple beginnings of balance training is just holding these positions for 30 seconds.

So let’s say I’m going to work on a single leg balance on my right foot for 30 seconds.

The next variation with these is to do it both knee locked in full extension and knee bent. so notice that bent knee versus locked knee may feel quite different.

Again, you start off finding something that’s a little bit challenging, maybe a single leg, knee bent.

Hold that for 30 seconds.

Now, if you are athletic, or you’ve been moving for any period of time, you have good balance with your eyes open, all of these are probably really easy. So 30 seconds here, 30 seconds here, it doesn’t really matter.

So version two then is to do all this with eyes closed. So you go back to your same progression, eyes closed, feet together. How much am I wobbling? Put one foot in front of the other, staggered stance. Hold your eyes, or eyes closed.

Can you hold that for 15 seconds to 30 seconds?

Off to the side, close your eyes.

Can you hold that for 15 to 30?

If that’s okay, then you go to the single leg, eyes closed.

Work your way up to 15 to 30 seconds of each of those different positions, again looking for something that’s challenging. Now the next evolution of this, like I said in this particular version, we’re keeping the head still.

What we’re going to now add is some, what’s called perturbation from the outside.

For this, you’re going to need a band.

This is a really, really thin little exercise band, tied off. But what you’ll begin is you’ll work through the same series this way. So let’s imagine that I’m fairly stable, and what I found with my eyes closed was that the staggered stance was challenging for me.

The way that I’m going to add the band to this is I’m going to hold the band with both hands, get it close to my chest. Eyes are open. Get into my staggered stance, all right.

So now I’m going to have to maintain my balance here.

Once I’m in position, I close my eyes, again making sure that I have my balance. Then from there, what I want to do is push the band out away from me.

As I push the band away from me, it’s going to require some additional stabilization on the body, and a lot of people will find as soon as the band comes into play, their balance is very challenged, where they have to step out of it.

So this is a great drill that you can do. Again, depending on what you found in your own body.

Keeping the head still, it is just an eyes open, eyes closed variation, adding in a band.

Now, when you add the band in, I also recommend that you not always have it pulling from, in this particular case from my left to my right. I also want to pull from my right to left. I can have the band up overhead behind me. I can have it down below behind me.

What you’ll find is that each of those variations challenges your balance in a different way. In order to improve balance, what we’ve seen in research is that you need to spend somewhere between maybe seven and 10 minutes, three times a week, working through these different variations.

If you can do that, it will have big benefits for you, not only in safety, as you move through the world, but usually we see great improvements as well in generalized athleticism.

So, this is part one.

In our next episode, I’m going to go through how do we now challenge the balance system when our head is in motion, which is where a lot of people find they need some work.

So stay tuned.

We’ll talk to you about that next week.

Otherwise, enjoy these progressions.

Let us know if you have any questions.

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